Reports /  Articles

May 2002


TDRC presentation to
the Ontario Municipal Board
RE: Amendments of the City of Toronto By-Laws
concerning Legalizing Second Suites
Case # PL990850

24 February 2000


1. The TDRC: Who Are We? ................................................................. 

2. The Emergency Declaration .............................................................. 

3. Why is homelessness a Disaster? ....................................................  

4. What does it mean to declare homelessness a Disaster? ................     

5. The One Percent Solution ................................................................

6. Homelessness is a Serious Human Rights Violation ........................     

7. The Homelessness Disaster: In Toronto ...........................................   

8. The Homelessness Disaster: In Ontario ...........................................

9. Homelessness is Houselessness, period. ........................................

10. Toronto’s Housing Conditions ........................................................

11. Second Suites - A Step Towards Ending Homelessness in Toronto       

12. Conclusion: Protect Legal Second Suites in Toronto .....................             



The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee is a group of social policy, health care and housing experts, academics, business people, community health workers, social workers, AIDS activists, anti‑poverty activists, people with homelessness experience, and members of the faith community.

We have worked with homeless people, studied homelessness, served on numerous committees and task forces, and have watched the homeless crisis worsen daily.  We have bandaged the injuries caused by being homeless and have attended the funerals of many people.

Our founding members are:

_  Cathy Crowe, RN, Queen West Community Health Centre, a street outreach nurse
_  Beric German, Street Health AIDS Outreach Program
_  David Hulchanski, Professor, Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto
_  John Andras, co‑founder of Project Warmth, Vice‑President, Research Capital Corp.
_  Trevor Gray, AIDS Action Now
_  Brent Patterson, Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange
_  Maurice Adongo Street Health
_  Paula Dolezal, Street Health Mental Health Outreach Program
_  Peter Rosenthal, lawyer and University of Toronto professor
_  Rev. Don (Dan) Heap (Anglican), former MP (Trinity-Spadina)
_  Jeannie Loughrey, Anglican Priest, Diocese of Toronto
_  Frank Showler, Member of Board of St. Claire's Inter‑faith Housing
_  Sherrie Golden, Ontario Coalition Against Poverty
_  Sue Osborne, Housing Support Worker, Cornerstone Women's Residence
_  David Walsh, President Realco Property Ltd.
_  Michael Shapcott, Co‑op Housing Federation of Canada ‑ Ontario Region
_  Gaetan Heroux
_  Steve Lane

Each member brings their specific experience and expertise to the collective efforts of the TDRC. Together we cover a wide range of the related issues and speak for a large and broad community. This community includes people who are or who have experienced homelessness, frontline workers, activists and concerned citizens and, though centered in Toronto, spreads across the country. Our work has led directly to the formation of at least two other organizations, working hard and fast to end homelessness and ease the housing crisis:

  • the National Housing and Homeless Network (NHHN); and

  • the British Columbia Housing and Homeless Network (BCHHN).

The TDRC is endorsed by over 400 organizations, including the city councils of Toronto, Ottawa‑Carleton, Nepean and Vancouver, the Big City Mayors’ Caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Federal Caucus of the National Democratic Party, the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association (CHRA), the Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, the National Anti-Poverty Association, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Auto Workers, and the Canadian Health Coalition and the Children’s Aid Society (Toronto).


By endorsing the TDRC, these city councils, national organizations and citizens of Canada indicate their support for our declaration that homelessness in Canada is a National Disaster. Our Emergency Declaration reads:

"That the Provincial and Federal Governments be requested to declare homelessness a national disaster requiring emergency humanitarian relief and be urged to immediately develop and implement a National Homelessness Relief and Prevention Strategy using disaster relief funds, both to provide the homeless with immediate health protection and housing and to prevent further homelessness."

We are encouraging all people, organizations and levels of government to explicitly recognize homelessness as a disaster and to immediately take appropriate action in all communities throughout the country. We urge the provincial and federal governments to declare homelessness a national disaster.


We have asked ourselves these questions:

  • Why is this human crisis not treated the same as other crises where people lose their housing and have their family and community networks disrupted, like the ice storm in Quebec and Eastern Ontario, or like the floods in Manitoba?

  • Why are our governments not responding to the physical and mental harm, including death, caused by being homeless?

  • Why are they ignoring the spread of disease such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and hepatitis?

  • Why is it that our public officials fail to recognize that tens of thousands of people without housing and without adequate food and health care constitutes one of the largest and most serious national disasters that Canada has ever faced?

Disasters, natural or man-made, are not restricted to countries in the tropics, but their consequences are similar.

The evidence that the crisis of homelessness in this city, this province and in this country has become such a disaster started to accumulate in late 1995 and early 1996. This included:

  • serious overcrowding of our day and overnight shelter system;

  • a 38% tuberculosis infection rate among the homeless;

  • clusters of freezing deaths of homeless people;

  • a rise in overall morbidity, including malnutrition;

  • the spread of infectious disease; and a rise in the number of homeless deaths.

A recent study, conducted by Dr. Stephen Huang of St. Michael’s Hospital and the University of Toronto’s Medical School, found that homeless men aged 18-24 had a mortality rate 8 times than the general population and men aged 25‑44 had a mortality rate 4 times as high. This is unacceptable.

Despite Canada’s reputation for providing relief to people made temporarily homeless by natural disasters, our governments are unwilling to help the scores of thousands of people in Canada condemned to homelessness. We urge you, the Ontario Municipal Board, to mobilize in the face of this Homeless Disaster, and come to the aid of this one’s victims ‑ before the next person dies.


Declaring homelessness a National Disaster and Emergency allows all levels of government to immediately implement Emergency Humanitarian Relief and Prevention Measures.

The strategy must provide the homeless with immediate health protection and housing and it must institute measures that prevent further homelessness. In any disaster, people are provided with emergency assistance. Then permanent measures are implemented.

The solution to homelessness - its elimination and prevention - is:

Housing: all homeless people require adequate and appropriate housing they can afford.

 Income: all homeless people require enough money to live on (e.g., a job, job training, adequate pension or social assistance).

Support Services: some homeless people require support services.

The first such measure must be a massive reinvestment in the construction of affordable housing. Money spent providing expensive services to people without a place to live is money down the drain.


The single most important thing that we can all do to end homelessness in Ontario and in Canada is to implement local, provincial and national housing supply and support service strategies. At this point in time, Canada is the only industrialized country not to have a senior level government  (federal/provincial) housing policy.

To fund a housing strategy the TDRC proposes the One Percent Solution ‑‑ that all levels of government spend an additional one percent of their existing total budgets on housing.

The One Percent Solution is based on a calculation of the combined spending of all levels of government ‑‑ federal, provincial, territorial and municipal. Add up the amount of money all levels of government are spending on housing and it equals about one percent of overall government spending.  This money current provides a range of housing supports, including affordable housing for 650,000 households (about 5.5% of the entire country’s housing stock).

The One Percent Solution calls for a doubling of this effort. That means, in simple terms, that every government needs to double what it is currently spending on housing. This can be phased in over a three to five year period. The One Percent Solution is not based on one percent of any particular government's spending, but one percent of all governments' spending.

On average, in 1994‑95, the federal, provincial and municipal governments of Canada spent $3.83 billion out of a total of $358 billion dollar budget on housing.

Introducing the One Percent Solution would not only substantially increase the number of housing units but would also increase the support services for people who need housing. There would be funding for new construction, renovation of existing units and subsidies for people on low incomes.

Summing up, The One Percent Solution is:

Affordable: The 1% Solution is affordable, at about 50 cents per tax payer per day.

Modest: Set against the huge and growing need of affordable housing and services, the 1 % Solution is a modest but important proposal.

Mainly ‘catch up’ spending: in real terms, the 1% Solution is in fact only replacing the huge amount of money cut out of housing and related programs by the federal government since 1984.

 Funding for all three parts of the solution: The funds would supply: (1) adequate housing, (2) adequate support services, and (3) adequate jobs, job training and social assistance – thereby ending mass homelessness in Canada.


All human rights violations are acts that disregard human dignity and the rule of law.

The moral and ethical codes of the World’s religions, international law, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and federal and provincial human rights legislation, oblige Canadians and Canadian governments to refrain from acts, omissions, or other measures that result in                 violations of human rights.

The very existence of people who do not have any housing is by itself a most serious human rights violation.

In December 4, 1998 the United Nation’s Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva, in its review  of Canada’s compliance, issued its strongest criticism ever of any Western nation’s human rights record.

This severe criticism of Canada reminds all nations that the failure to address and prevent homelessness is a serious human rights violation.

Eight paragraphs in the Committee’s report on Canada refer to homelessness. One refers to the Toronto Disaster Relief’s national disaster declaration.

 24. The Committee is gravely concerned that such a wealthy country as Canada has allowed the problem of homelessness and inadequate housing to grow to such proportions that the mayors of Canada's ten largest cities have now declared homelessness a national disaster.

34. The Committee is concerned that the State Party did not take into account the Committee's 1993 major concerns and recommendations when it adopted policies at federal, provincial and territorial levels which exacerbated poverty and homelessness among vulnerable groups during a time of strong economic growth and increasing affluence.

In March 1999 the TDRC submitted a detailed report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. This is the other of the two major human rights review committees within the UN. The TDRC report had a clear and blunt title:

Death on the Streets of Canada: A Report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee Regarding Compliance with Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by Canada.

This report helped draw the UN Committee’s attention to homelessness, resulting in the following comment in the Committee’s final report on Canada:

“12. The Committee is concerned that homelessness has led to serious health problems and even to death. The Committee recommends that the State party take positive measures required by article 6 to address this serious problem.”

In addition, there was enough evidence of the role public policy has played in Canada’s homelessness disaster for an embarrassed Canadian Government delegation to promise the UN to hold Parliamentary hearings into the human rights concerns of the Committee. The UN Committee explicitly reminded the Government of Canada of this promise in the third paragraph of its final report, issued on April 7, 1999.

“3. The Committee welcomes the delegation's commitment to take actions to ensure effective follow‑up in Canada of the Committee's concluding observations and to further develop and improve mechanisms for ongoing review of compliance of the State Party with the provisions of the Covenant. In particular, the Committee welcomes the delegations' commitment to inform public opinion in Canada about the Committee's concerns and recommendations, to distribute      the Committee's concluding observations to all members of Parliament and to ensure that a parliamentary committee will hold hearings of issues arising from the Committee's observations.”

The Canadian government has not kept its promise.

Societies with homeless people amidst great prosperity have established and are maintaining homeless‑creating processes ‑ day‑to‑day `normal’ mechanisms which result in people                becoming unhoused and remaining unhoused, often for long periods of time. These are dehousing processes. The most basic human rights of a group of people within our                    communities are being violated.

We cannot sit idly by and let this misery and death continue.  The time to act is now.


In Toronto the Disaster is flourishing. You will see it in a hundred ways every day, including:

_  the people panhandling for spare change to survive

_  the older men and women shoveling leftover casseroles from a soup kitchen into little plastic bags to take home to their rooming house or squat

_  the wet sleeping bags left in a pile on a street corner

_  the permanent homes erected in alleyways, on grates, in squats, parks and under bridges

_  the church basements that are now open for emergency shelter, filled with people following a path of forced migration from church to church every night of the week in the winter.

There is no longer enough room in Toronto’s emergency hostel system to provide safe shelter for this Disaster’s victims. On many nights the City reports that the hostels are “totally full.” It is dangerous and unhealthy to run any shelter system at 100%+ capacity.

However, despite the horrendous overcrowded conditions in Toronto’s shelters, people are so desperate to get off the streets that during a rainstorm last fall an overnight emergency shelter had to take in 126 people, far more than the 80 they are set up to handle. People were crowded elbow to elbow, some sleeping on mats, while others were left on the concrete floor. Staff had to refuse to admit anyone else and people heard pounding on the door and screaming outside.

In Toronto, the largest growing group of people suffering in this Disaster are children and families. The Report of the Mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force, released a year ago, tells us that families make up 46% of the people using Toronto hostels. The follow up report, The Toronto Report Card on Homelessness 2000, confirms that the single largest growing segment of shelter users are two-parent families with children.  Last year alone almost 6000 children used the shelter system.  No wonder the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto found that lack of adequate housing was a significant issue for almost 1 in 5 of the children coming into their care.


Across Ontario, this Homeless Disaster has left a visible trail of death. October’s issue of the “Mortem Post” cautions coroners in Ontario to consider homelessness as a factor as they proceed in their investigation, autopsies and inquests.

And the housing crisis looms ever larger in Ontario, bringing more and more people to the brink of homelessness and then onto the province’s streets. Where’s Home, the most thorough study with the latest data available on housing conditions currently available, tells us that:

_  over 300,000 tenant households in Ontario are paying more than 50% of their incomes on rent. Many tenants are at immediate risk of becoming houseless.

_  in most parts of Ontario, tenant incomes are falling even as rents rise faster than inflation.

_  about 16, 000 new rental units are needed annually according to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), but almost no new affordable rental             housing is being built.

_  in Barrie, a town representative of many in Ontario, there was a 1, 235% increase in stays at homeless shelters from 1994 to 1998.

_  many, many new cities, towns and regions in the province are opening shelter, conducting studies, convening task forces including Brampton, Muskoka and Peterborough. Peel Region recently endorsed the TDRC Disaster Declaration.


The one thing all homeless people have in common is that they are unhoused.

Ontario’s homeless were all once housed, most of them adequately housed.

Today many thousands are unhoused. Half of the 5,000 people who slept in Toronto’s shelters last night were families. About 1,000 were children.

Affordable housing is the key to ending homelessness and easing the housing crisis in Ontario. Research in all jurisdictions concludes that the availability of long term affordable rental housing is the solution for people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

A major research initiative, taking about ten years to complete, published as “Predictors of Homelessness Among Families in New York City” (American Journal of Public Health, 1998) found, amongst other things, that regardless of the specific personal histories and/or contexts of homeless people lives, over 80% of homeless families remained housed after five years, in contrast to only 20% who did not obtain subsidized housing.

Homelessness is the fallout of the twin problems of affordability and supply. Build enough affordable housing and return to more equitable social assistance levels and you will house the vast majority of Ontario’s homeless people.


It is difficult for any low‑ or moderate‑income household to find adequate, appropriate and affordable housing in Toronto.

Toronto’s Rental Sector

Rent increases have been gradual but continuous over the past decade. The average rent for a two bedroom apartment, for example, has increased by 38% between 1989 and 1998 (compared to an inflation increase of 21%).

The number of rental apartments in this city at the lower levels of affordability continue to decrease dramatically.  The recent Toronto Report Card on Homelessness 2000 found that:

_  between 1997 and 1999, the number of apartments renting for less than $600 fell from 54,300 units to 26,100, a decline of more than 50%

_ these apartments, which are those affordable to households with incomes of about $24,000 a year, now make up only 9% of the conventional private rental stock (down from 19% in 1997)

_ in contrast, units renting for $800 and over made up 57% of all rental stock in 1999

 The Ontario government’s new landlord/tenant legislation, the abolition of controls on apartment demolition and conversion, and the decision to gut the Human Rights Code’s protection from discrimination (allowing the use of minimum income criteria), means that rental housing will become even more scarce and more expensive.

Household Income Trends in Toronto

Household income among renters has not kept pace with inflation and the gap between average renter and owner household incomes continues to grow. The following household income averages are from the 1991 Census and the 1996 Census for the City of Toronto (formerly              Metropolitan Toronto):

1991 Census

            n  owners average income, $73,200

n  renters average income, $38,400


1996 Census

n  owners average income, $74,100

n  renters average income, $36,200

During the five years between the 1991 Census and 1996 Census average renter incomes fell by 6% while average income for owners increased by 1.3%.

Though housing consumers are divided into these two groups (owners and renters), the land and housing markets are not.  There is one market for both, and owners, with the higher incomes, set the prices. The low average incomes among renters means that it is no longer economical to build new rental housing, except at the upper end of the market –  though this part of the market is now mainly served by condominium apartments that are offered for rent. This is why the Ontario Government’s housing policy – let the market build the rental housing we need – is a predictable   failure. The market cannot build and make money in the rental sector.

Toronto’s Eviction Trends

The number of eviction applications has steadily increased since 1997, with a 14% increase from 1998 to 1999 alone.  Of the 33, 423 applications of eviction filed with the Ontario Municipal Board since May 1998, about half (16,565) of them resulted in a default order to evict the tenant.

In Toronto, from June 1998 to June 1999, 24,000 applications to evict came before the OMB.  That translates to about 500 a week.  Given that about 53% of these applications resulted in default orders to evict, and that about half of the cases that actually went in front of the tribunal resulted in eviction, it is safe to say that at least 400 households are being evicted in Toronto every week.

Given that the vast majority of these households are being evicted for economic reasons, and there is a dearth of affordable rental housing in Toronto, where, we all shudder to ask, are these people going to go?

Toronto’s Vacancy Rates

Low vacancy rates are supposed to be the housing market signal for investors to build more rental housing. However, vacancy rates have been very low for more than two decades in Toronto. They were less than one percent through most of the 1980s, increasing to two percent in the early 1990s and then falling back again.

                        Vacancy Rates in the City of Toronto, 1989 to 1999
(formerly Metropolitan Toronto)

                       1989        0.4%

                       1990        0.8

                       1991        1.6

                       1992        2.0

                       1993        1.9

                       1994        1.2

                       1995        0.8

                       1996        1.1

                       1997        0.8

                       1998        0.9

                       1999        0.9

Source: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Rental Housing Construction in Toronto

Most of the rental housing built over the past ten years has been social housing – municipal, private and co‑operative non‑profit housing subsidized by the federal and provincial governments. However, the federal government ceased funding any new social housing in 1993 and the Province of Ontario did the same in 1995. Thus, there are no longer any new social housing starts and there are very few private sector rental starts.

11.   Second Suites - A Step Towards Ending Homelessness in Toronto

In the summer of 1999 Toronto City Council amended zoning bylaws and official plans of the former cities to give homeowners the right to rent out a part of their home as a self-contained apartment.  These “second suites” will be required to conform to all current building, fire and property standards.  Many areas of the city already permit apartments in houses.  The proposed zoning would make that permission and regulations consistent in all neighbourhoods. 

Second suites are not a new development.  After the 1st and 2nd World Wars, second suites played a vital role in the resettlement of returning soldiers and their families, and the waves of migrants from many European countries.

More recently, In 1994 and 1995 apartments in houses were permitted as of right based on provincial legislation.  However, this legislation was repealed by the current government in 1996, giving cities the right through zoning to determine in what areas apartments in houses will be permitted.  The OMB must upholds the city’s rights on this issue.

Currently, about 100,000 of Toronto’s rental units are second suites.  Second suites are a cost effective and natural response to community housing needs.  However, Toronto City Council’s proposed amendments are being challenged here. The TDRC joins with others in the community to urge you to uphold these important city initiatives to deal with Toronto’s housing crisis and homeless disaster.

Legalizing second suites will raise the standards of many currently “illegal” units by requiring the standardization of building, fire and property codes.

Legalizing second suites across the city will increase the affordable rental housing stock and increase the rental housing vacancy rate.  Both of these results will keep more people adequately housed and away from homelessness.

Who Owns and Lives in Second Suites?

The vast majority of second suites are in owner-occupied houses.  In terms of community life - schools, churches, community centres, the corner grocer, etc. - these homes fit in naturally with the majority of single family homes that surround them.

Second suites are owned by parents who have created separate apartments in their houses for their newly wed adult children to live in.  Second suites are owned by elderly persons who need the income to keep their homes.  They are owned by homeowners enduring job loss who need rental income to keep their homes.  They are owned by young families who rely on the extra income to make their homes affordable.

People who live in second suites include the families of the homeowners, or the care-givers and nannies of these families.  They are students, coping with the high costs of post-secondary education.  They are new married couples and young families trying to secure their footholds in society.  They are new Canadians.  They are pensioners.  They are middle and low-income people in need of safe, secure and affordable rental housing.  This is what legal second suites give them.  This security of house and home is what we urge you to protect today.

12.  Conclusion: Protect Legal Second Suites in Toronto

Legal second suites across the City of Toronto is a key piece of any sound government policy in preventing homelessness.  This is true in the best of times, and even more urgently so during the homeless disaster and housing crisis we are now struggling with in Toronto and Ontario.  Second suites can be part of the adequate and affordable housing low-income people need, either to stay housed or become re-housed.  Upholding Toronto City Council’s decision to legalize second suites across the city is an easy and efficient thing the Ontario Municipal Board can do to protect and increase our city’s affordable rental housing stock, thereby keeping more people housed.  It is easy because the by-laws are already enacted - you just need to protect them here at these hearings.  It is efficient because it will not cost you or the Ontario tax-payer a cent.

Legalizing second suites is not a “special interest,” or a charitable act the Ontario Municipal Board is being asked to make.   Adequate and affordable shelter is not a luxury. It is a basic human right that is being denied far to many people in the province right now.

You, the OMB, have the means to make sure that the city of Toronto has a little more affordable rental housing.  We urge you to act, and to do so immediately. It is your  responsibility to address these problems and crises.  Support the Toronto City Council efforts and uphold their proposed second suite by-laws and zoning changes.

Submitted on behalf of the Steering Committee of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee 
24 February 2000  
By Kira Heineck, Co-ordinator, Toronto Disaster Relief Committee 
Submission co-written by Cathy Crowe and Michael Shapcott, Steering Committee members, Toronto Disaster Relief Committee

For more information, contact TDRC at

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